Nutrition and Brain Development in Children

We’ve all heard, or told our children, to “eat your spinach so you can be strong like Popeye”. But did you know spinach, among other nutrient-packed foods, is vital to feeding a child’s brain development? This topic intrigued us at Eden, so we dug a little deeper.

The brain is “the Crown Jewel of the Human Body” and is arguably the most important part of our body. It houses our intelligence, interprets our senses, initiates our body movement, and controls our behavior (1). It is intricately connected to our entire being (even our gut, as discussed in last week’s blog post). To function optimally the brain requires a high level of nutrients. During brain development, proper maternal and infant nutrition are needed to ensure the foundation is laid for optimal function (2).


This nutrition begins before the child even is a thought. It’s critical that the mother has these nutrients on board even prior to conceiving.

“In the first few weeks of gestation when most women do not know that they are pregnant, the zygote is growing at an incredible rate. Proper nutrition supports the rapid cell division, development of supporting structures such as the placenta, implantation, and neural tube closure that occur in those first few weeks” (2).

After a child is born, the race is on to make sure the child is receiving these brain-building nutrients. Breastfeeding is a key component to this. Not only does breastfeeding help develop the bond and provide nurturing benefits that likely are a significant component to brain development (3) but breastfeeding also provides vital nutrients for the baby and has been called the “perfect food”, containing just the right amount of nutrients (4). One key ingredient in breastmilk is a brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acid called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which is a vital nutrient for growth, development and maintenance of brain tissue. This means it is just as crucial for mom to include food containing DHA in her diet as well (5). Sources of DHA include fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef and even algae, like Spirulina.

New research is emerging on the healthy microbes in breastmilk and brain development. Again, these probiotics found in fruits, vegetables, and other sources (we talk about those sources here) are vital for mom as well!

“A healthy microbiome is developed within the first three years of life and plays a number of critical roles throughout the lifespan, including how well people are able to fight disease and prevent infections. Breastmilk seeds and nurtures the microbiome with beneficial bacteria, until it is fully mature. Beneficial gut bacteria play a role in lowering risk for chronic diseases like asthma, obesity, allergies, dermatitis, inflammatory bowel disease and neurodevelopmental disorders. They also play a role in regulating anxiety, mood, cognition and pain via the brain/gut axis (6)."

DHA and probiotics aren’t the only vital nutrients. This article does a great job of going into detail on the crucial roles of each of the 6 nutrients that have been studied regarding mom and baby brain development. Check them out below…


Brain development continues until into the second decade of life. These years are critical to making sure children are being fed the best nutrients possible to feed their brains and bodies. Studies are showing more links between nutrition and brain health in children, including mental/emotional health.

“Among secondary school children, in particular, there was a really strong link between eating a nutritious diet, packed with fruit and vegetables, and having better mental well-being,” explains co-author Dr. Richard Hayhoe, of UEA’s Norwich Medical School (7).


These power-house nutrients are not always readily available, or financially possible. We are passionate at Eden to help “feed” our youth mentally and physically. We are just at the forefront of our lofty goals of taking our grow towers to churches, schools, and communities…not just for the awesome nutrient benefits, but as part of S.T.E.M. learning projects as well, to help provide our future generation with ALL the tools necessary to thrive! Our grow towers are a great way to get some of those essential nutrients like Iodine in Spinach and Strawberries, and Folate and Choline in Dark Leafy Greens! God has been so good to us, and we are excited to see where He takes us next!

If you would like to join us on the journey to feed local communities around the world, or have a S.T.E.M. or other project in mind, please reach out to us here.


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References:

1.      Brain Basics: Know Your Brain | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (nih.gov)

2.      508052 - Early Brain Development.pdf

3.      The Science of Breastfeeding and Brain Development (nih.gov)

4.      Breast Milk Is Best | Johns Hopkins Medicine

5.      Breastfeeding and Brain Development | Ask Dr Sears

6.      Breastfeeding and the Microbiome | OHSU

7.      Kids who eat more fruits, vegetables have better mental health - Study Finds 

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The Power of Probiotics
For Plants and Humans